SOCHI — The Olympic luge athletes wrapped up their competition at the Sochi Winter Games Thursday night under the floodlights with the inaugural team relay event.
Favorite Germany captured the first-ever Olympic gold medal in luge team relay, with the silver going to host Russia, and Latvia getting the bronze. The Germans have won this event at the last 10 world championships.
It is one of the more intriguing new events that has been popular on the World Cup circuit this season. Finishes can be unpredictable because of possible false starts and crashes.
The team relay features each of the luge disciplines racing in this order - women's singles, men's singles and then doubles.
All start at the top of the course, but successive teammates can not begin until their teammate reaches the bottom and uses a hand to punch an overhead padded cylinder at the finish line. That allows the gate at the top of the course to open for the next sled to go down. The lowest combined time determines the gold medal.
Germany won with a total time (2:45.649) that was about one second faster than silver medalist Italy (2:46.679). Latvia (2:47.295) was about six-10ths of a second behind Italy for the bronze medal.
The United States placed sixth (2:47.555), nearly two seconds behind the winning Germans.
German doubles brakeman Tobias Arlt said that he and his teammates are close friends and this was a special win.
"This is a dream event. This is history alive. We are so happy. We've made history in sports and we've won a medal," said Arlt.
The team relay event wrapped up the luge competition at the Sochi Olympics. Germany was dominant, sweeping the gold medals - women's and men's singles, doubles and the team relay - as well as winning the silver in women's singles.
Germany also swept the luge gold medals at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Arlt, said the Germans are proud of their achievement at the Sochi Games.
"You know something, this is a very special sensation. Of course, we're in the spotlight. Of course, we are at the peak of our fame. Yet we are pretty calm, we are pretty composed. We are very happy that we are the focus of attention. We feed on that support, and I believe it's great," he said.
On hand to watch the first-ever luge team relay event were International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Prince Albert of Monaco, who competed in the bobsled in five Olympics.
Host Russia won two silver luge medals, Latvia won two bronze, Austria earned one silver, while Italy and the United States each took one bronze medal. The U.S. medal was won by Erin Hamlin, the first-ever singles luge medal for her country.
Gordy Sheer, who along with Chris Thorpe won the first-ever Olympic luge medal for the U.S. with a silver in doubles at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, told VOA he thinks the team relay event is a great addition to the Olympics.
"Anything that we can do to make the sport more compelling to fans is good for us, because frankly at the elite level it's a lot of sleds where it's hard to see what the athlete is doing because they're good and the best athletes make it look easy. So anything that mixes it up and introduces a little chaos into the equation is good," said Sheer.
Sheer added that he truly wishes there had been a luge team relay event back in the 1990s when he competed in three Winter Olympic Games.